As the witty columnist Erma Bombeck once so aptly observed, “Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.” Director Nicole Holofcener taps into that ongoing process in her subtly hilarious new film, “Please Give.” Best of all, she once again teams up with the brilliant Catherine Keener in their fourth and finest collaboration.
Keener and Oliver Platt play Kate and Alex, married Manhattan vintage-furniture store owners who prey on the children of recently deceased parents for inventory. Buying low and selling high has begun to eat away at Kate’s conscience. To assuage her guilt, she gives gobs of cash to homeless people and disastrously attempts to do volunteer work.
Having already purchased their 91-year-old next-door neighbor’s adjoining apartment, Kate and Alex are eagerly awaiting her death. This macabre vigil doesn’t escape the attention of the old woman’s granddaughters, Mary (Amanda Peet) and Rebecca (Rebecca Hall). Mary is pretty much on the same page as Kate and Alex, given her grandmother’s ornery and pessimistic nature, whereas Rebecca lovingly attends to her grandmother’s needs and demands.
Holofcener (“Lovely and Amazing”) has assembled a top-notch cast, which is key in making the tremendously touchy subject matter work. Peet is superb as the granddaughter from hell who never shies away from speaking the awful truth. Hall’s soulful performance as the kinder, gentler granddaughter provides the empathy so lost on most of the other characters. Outstanding is Ann Morgan Guilbert, who perfectly portrays the monstrous nonagenarian (you’ll recognize her as Millie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” if you’re old enough).
But Keener is the brightest beacon shining in this amiable yet acerbic comedy. She has a familiarity about her that easily draws you into any character she’s portraying (“Capote,””Being John Malkovich”). Her innocent, tortured and generous Kate hits all the right notes.
It’s said that charity begins at home. Holofcener seems to have built this great movie upon that profound foundation.
— Pam Nadon
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